ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - February 7, 2020, commemorates National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). NBHAAD aims to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment among black communities. This year's theme, "We're In This Together," highlights the importance of social support in eliminating stigma and reducing new HIV diagnoses among individuals that make up the black community. TheFlorida Department of Health in Alachua County (DOH-Alachua) joins community partners across the country to improve access to testing, overcome barriers for linkage to and retention in care, increase access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and reduce new infections and HIV-related disparities.
"We have a robust peer program here at the Florida Department of Health. Our staff knows what it's like to live with HIV. They are here to offer support to our community," said Gay Koehler-Sides, HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Florida Department of Health, Alachua County.
In 2018, 119,661 Floridians were confirmed to be living with HIV. Approximately 1,098 people in Alachua County were living with HIV, and of those, about 61% belong to the African American community.
There are different options for getting tested for HIV. Visit KnowYourHIVStatus.com
to learn more about testing options, or to order a free at-home HIV testing kit (while supplies last).
It's crucial that people living with HIV begin treatment as soon as possible. Immediate treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) typically leads to long, healthy lives for people living with HIV. It's also a method of HIV prevention. ART reduces the amount of HIV in the body, which makes it harder to transmit to others. People living with HIV who reach and maintain what's called "viral suppression" (fewer than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood) have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner.
There are also prevention tools for people who haven't been diagnosed with HIV. While HIV prevention is truly a group effort, it can look very different from person to person. A health care provider can do a risk/needs assessment to determine appropriate next steps, which might include taking PrEP and using condoms to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Prevention may also take the form of regular retesting.
For more information about the DOH-Alachua Peer Program, call 352-334-7969.